In December two months had passed since 57 year-old Lynn Spalding was found dead in a stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital. She had been missing from her room for 17 days. As the investigation into her disappearance continues, new questions are now being raised about when the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office will release its findings on the cause of Spalding’s death.
Critics of the ME’s office say it is severely understaffed and backlogged. Earlier this year, the National Association of Medical Examiners downgraded the office’s accreditation from full to provisional, citing a below average turnaround time for autopsy reports.
The lawyer for Spalding’s family told KTVU they are tired of waiting for the results.
“Was she dead in a day, was she dead in five days?” said attorney Haig Harris. “The Medical Examiner’s office hasn’t released anything except very early, on a statement saying that the death was not the result of foul play.”
The ME’s office has indicated it needs more time to complete toxicology work in the Spalding case.
In a recent statement a spokesman told KTVU, “The office of the Chief Medical Examiner is committed to thorough and accurate cause of death determinations. Delays in the discovery of the remains complicate the required scientific studies and medical examinations needed to reach an accurate conclusion. A final death certificate is issued when we are confident of the cause of death.”
“The delay isn’t doing anything, any good for the city and county of San Francisco,” said Harris. “It just makes us look more incompetent.”
Law enforcement sources tell KTVU they need the Spalding report to continue or conclude their investigations. It’s unclear when a complete report will be issued, but San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos on Tuesday called for a hearing into the backlog at the ME’s office.
For now, an interim death certificate lists Spalding’s date of death as October 8th at 11 a.m., the day and approximate time she was found in the stairwell. Harris said he obtained that document to begin legal work for Spalding’s adult children.
“She had some benefits that could be paid to her through her employment,” Harris said. “Without a death certificate, the insurance company doesn’t recognize somebody’s dead.”